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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE

20 February 2015

Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the UN Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was attended by the Spokespersons for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the World Health Organization, the International Organization for Migration, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, and the Human Rights Council.

Ukraine

Rupert Colville, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), stated that, while the 15 February ceasefire had led to a decrease in hostilities in many parts of the conflict zone in east Ukraine, the OHCHR remained deeply worried about the fate of civilians and captured or wounded, hors de combat Ukrainian servicemen in the Debaltseve area, where heavy fighting had continued until 18 February as a result of repeated breaches of the ceasefire by the armed groups. It was unclear how many civilians were trapped while fighting raged in the town, how many had been wounded or killed, and whether they now had access to medical and other basic services. OHCHR deeply regretted also that OSCE monitors had not been, and were still not, allowed access to that area.

OHCHR was also concerned about the resumed shelling of populated areas, in the cities of Donetsk and Mariupol in particular. It was crucial that the ceasefire was respected and the fighting stopped, especially in built-up areas, and that the Minsk Agreements were fully implemented.

The death toll since the beginning of the conflict in mid-April 2014 had now risen to at least 5,692 until 18 February. At least 14,122 people had also been wounded in the east of Ukraine. OHCHR stressed once again that that was a conservative estimate. OHCHR human rights monitoring team together with the WHO, who were gathering those data from official sources believed the actual number might be considerably higher. A further increase in the number of recorded casualties was expected in the coming days because reporting on casualties during the pre-ceasefire period, and especially in recent days in Debaltseve, had been considerably delayed.

The condition of captured Ukrainian pilot Nadiia Savchenko, who had been detained in Moscow since July 2014, was also worrying. Today was the 70
th day of Savchenko's hunger strike. According to her lawyer, she had decided to refuse glucose injections which had been given to her. OHCHR called on the Russian authorities to release her immediately on humanitarian grounds.

Asked who was blocking the access of monitors to Debaltseve, Mr. Colville said it was difficult to operate in areas controlled by armed groups. It was worrying that there was almost no information whatsoever on what was happening in Debaltseve. The next report on the situation of human rights in Ukraine should be published in early March.

Tarik Jašareviæ, for the World Health Organization (WHO), added that the previous day the UN convoy had delivered 62 metric tons of humanitarian aid to Luhansk and Donetsk regions, including 13 tons of medical supplies provided by the WHO. WHO medical supplies included products to treat HIV and tuberculosis, which should prevent children from being born with HIV/AIDS, and would be a life line to those affected by HIV and tuberculosis in those regions.

MERS Virus

Mr. Jašareviæ informed about the WHO mission to Saudi Arabia regarding the recent increase in the number of cases of Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome/Corona virus. The team of experts from the WHO, World Organization for Animal Health, Institut Pasteur and the Food and Agriculture Organization were now concluding their mission to assess the current situation, following up on a surge of cases in the previous few weeks. More than 40 cases had been reported in February in several locations in the country, including some infections in health facilities.

Main findings reported that there was a significant improvement in areas such as data collection and surveillance, but there was still need to work in several areas in trying to get more critical knowledge in terms of transmission and human animal interface. Also, work had to be done regarding communication with the population and really explaining what MERS was and what prevention measures should be taken.

It was important to understand the human and animal interface, the mode of infection transmission, filling critical knowledge gaps in the science and epidemiology, and doing further research studies and sharing the findings widely and rapidly.

As many infections happened in health care facilities, Mr. Jašareviæ stressed that infection prevention and control measures should be applied in all health facilities without exception.

Ebola

Mr. Jašareviæ stated that the WHO had assessed and listed a first antigen rapid test kit as being eligible for procurement to Ebola-affected countries. The test was evaluated though a procedure established to provide a minimum quality, safety and performance assurance for diagnostic products in the context of the Ebola emergency.

That was the first rapid antigen test that gave the results within 15 minutes. It was a little bit less accurate than the standard PCR test that WHO was currently using, but it was easy to perform, it did not require electricity and it could be used in lower level health care facilities or in mobile units for patients in remote settings. Where possible, obviously results from the antigen rapid test should be confirmed by testing with blood sample using normal PCR tests.

Mr. Jašareviæ specified that the test could correctly identify 92 per cent of Ebola-infected patients. Advantages outweighed the risks. It was the first rapid test that could give results in a few minutes.

Answering questions from the journalists, Mr. Jašareviæ informed that the cost of the antigen was still not known and was being worked out by the companies. The company also had to go through a list of procedures with the USFDA, which was expected within a week or two, after which the antigen test could be purchased. One of the criteria was to make sure that there were enough tests available for purchase. A number of agencies, such as the Médecins Sans Frontières, have expressed interest in purchasing it.

Further details would be sent out to the press subsequently. A WHO expert was available for further inquiries.

Migrants in the Mediterranean

Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), stated that in February 2015, the IOM had registered the arrivals of some 4,3000 migrants to Italy. 3,800 had arrived between 13 and 17 February. Some 1,215 migrants had disembarked at Lampedusa, 1,394 in Western Sicily and 839 in Eastern Sicily. The majority of those migrants were sub-Saharans, mostly Eritreans, although in the previous 24 hours IOM staffers had reported that Syrians were among the new arrivals. There were also migrants from Burkina Faso, Mali and Côte d’Ivoire.

Periods and conditions of stay in Libya were quite varied, with migrants reporting stays of between five days and two years while waiting to leave for Europe. Many migrants reported that it was simply too dangerous to try to remain in Tripoli as the level of violence had kept increasing. Some migrants reported paying smugglers as little as USD 400 to take a spot on one of the small, inflatable crafts, while some had to pay as much as USD 1,500.

Asked about the return of Senegalese migrants from Libya, Mr. Millman said that IOM knew of at least 400 who had received an approval to leave, and efforts were currently underway to start bringing them back the following week. The situation was so uncertain that it was difficult to confirm when exactly the operation would take place. Other nationalities had also approached IOM in the same regard.

Racism in France

Mr. Colville stated that the OHCHR strongly condemned the racist behaviour of a group of Chelsea football fans during the build up to a Champions league game in Paris on 17 February. The fans had been filmed singing a song that flaunted their racism and repeatedly preventing a French citizen of African descent from boarding the Paris Métro by shoving him back on to the platform.

In recent years, the OHCHR had been engaged in discussions with both FIFA and UEFA about exploring ways to enhance the effort to drum racism out of football after numerous examples of racist behaviour by football fans, especially inside stadiums. The events in the Richelieu-Drouot Metro station in Paris showed that much work remained to be done before racism was truly eradicated from sport, let alone from society at large.

The fact that that particular incident had been filmed and widely shown in the media gave rise to widespread and welcome condemnation by politicians, media and other commentators. OHCHR also welcomed the fact that the French authorities had launched an investigation into the incident, and the British police had said that they would assist the French authorities in identifying the people involved and support them in any action they chose to take.

Mr. Colville stressed that it was important to recognize, however, that that was not an isolated incident. Similar acts of cruel and casual racism took place every single day, all across Europe, without arousing much indignation, because they were not caught on camera. It was important to build on the outrage created by this snapshot of the ugly face of racism, to re-energize the effort to combat it in all its forms wherever it occurred.

Mr. Colville, returning to the case of killing of an albino baby in northern Tanzania, said that such issues used to receive very little coverage until a few years back. The problem was not limited to Tanzania only. The issue had risen up the agenda and it would continue to be followed closely, including at the upcoming Human Rights Council session.

Asked about an alleged secret detention centre in Venezuela, known as “La Tomba”, Mr. Colville said the Office did not have any concrete information on that particular centre. OHCHR did not have presence on the ground in Venezuela and its relations with the Government were sometimes difficult.

Economic Commission for Europe

Jean Rodriguez, for the Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), briefed about the activities planned for the following week.

There would be the annual meeting of the Inland Transport Committee on 24-26 February. It was the only United Nations intergovernmental body dedicated to inland transport (road, rail, water ways). An opening session would focus on urban transports and urban mobility issue with speakers of interest such as the Deputy Minister of Transport of the Russian Federation, Nikolay Assaul, the Mayor of the city of Almaty, Yuriy Ilin from Kazakhstan, the Chairman of the Board and CEO of Athens Urban Transport Organization, Gregory Dimitriadis, as well as the General Director of the Division of Transport of the Republic and Canton of Geneva and a number of others speakers. Urban transport issues, urban congestion, mobility, interconnectivity and pollutions issues were highly topical.

The entire following week would be dedicated to Sustainable Land Management, with three different events planned from 24 to 27 February. The first would be a vital public spaces workshop with a plethora of renowned experts such as Michelangelo Pistoletto, the artist Olafur Eliasson and Jan Gehl from Denmark, an international expert of the reform of urban centers particularly in terms of pedestrian and bicycle area zones. During his mandate of counselor of the Mayor of New York City, he had enabled creation of a lot of urban streets in pedestrian and bicycles zones areas. There would also be Susan Silberberg, an urbanist and international expert working on a project about revitalizing areas in Puerto Rico.

The second event would be held in Room IX on 25 February, and would consist of debates about challenges of informal settlements, which was an issue touching all the countries.

The third event would take place in the Environment House on 26 February, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m, where UNECE along with UNDP would present a regional report that discussed lessons on the monitoring and the implementation of the MDGs for the Post-2015 Development Agenda. The speakers would be the UNECE Executive Secretary Christian Friis Bach, the UNDP Office in Geneva Director Neil Buhne, the Bosnia and Herzegovina Permanent Representative Milos Prica, while the moderator would be Jan Dusik, UNEP Regional Director.

Geneva activities

Ms. Momal-Vanian said that the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was discussing the report of Tuvalu today. The following week, it would consider reports of Denmark, Kyrgyzstan, Eritrea and the Maldives.

Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights would start its session the following week, when it would consider reports of Paraguay, Tajikistan and Gambia. Background release had been distributed the previous day.

Human Rights Council Advisory Committee would hold a week-long session the following week.

Conference on Disarmament would hold public sessions on 24 and 26 February. On 24 February, delegations would discuss nuclear disarmament.

Mr. Jašareviæ reminded that the WHO press conference on the safe use of syringes would take place in Press Room I today at 2 p.m. Millions of people could be protected from infections acquired through unsafe injections if all healthcare programmes switched to syringes that could not be used more than once and restricted injections exclusively to those that are medically necessary. The World Health Organization (WHO) was launching a new policy on injection safety and recommending the exclusive use of “smart” syringes for medical injections. Speakers would be Dr. Edward Kelley, Director of the WHO Service Delivery and Safety Department, and Dr. Gundo Weiler, Coordinator, WHO HIV/AIDS Department.

Rolando Gomez, for the Human Rights Council (HRC), informed that the Human Rights Council would hold its 28th session from 2 to 27 March. On that occasion, Ambassador Joachim Ruecker of Germany, President of the Human Rights Council would organize a breakfast meeting with the press in Press Room 1 on 25 February at 9.30 a.m.

Mr. Gomez informed that thus far, 85 dignitaries were inscribed to speak, including one head of State, four deputy prime ministers, 62 ministers, 12 deputy ministers and six other ranks. The list could change, and the journalists were encouraged to look for updates at the HRC Extranet page. The list was likely to grow to around 100.

Mr. Gomez also informed journalists that the 9th report of the Syrian Commission of Inquiry, scheduled to be presented to the Human Rights Council on 17 March, was under strict embargo until about 4 p.m. on 20 February. The report charted out the different human rights violations over the course of the conflict since March 2011 until January 2015. The four commissioners were currently in New York, briefing the Security Council. All four of the commissioners would be back in Geneva on 17 March to present the report, and a press conference would then be scheduled.

Ms. Momal-Vanian introduced Michele Zaccheo, who would take over as the Chief of Radio and TV Unit as of 2 April.


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Spokespersons for the International Labour Organization, the United Nations Children’s Fund and the United Nations Refugee Agency were also present, but did not brief.

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: … http://bit.ly/unog200215